Sunday 20 January 2019

Poor commemoration for a man who helped create our State

The centenary of John Redmond's death deserved better from current leaders, writes Charles Lysaght

John Edward Redmond
John Edward Redmond

Charles Lysaght

Last Tuesday was the centenary of the death of John Redmond, the Irish national leader from 1900 until his death in 1918. It is sad to record that his life of service to Ireland was not adequately commemorated by the State he played such an important role in bringing into being.

Those responsible decided to mark the day not at his grave in Wexford, as one might have expected, but by facilitating an academic seminar in the National Gallery organised by the Royal Irish Academy. As a commemoration, it just did not measure up.

The President wasn't there and while the Ceann Comhairle, Sean O Fearghail, and the Chancellor of the National University, Maurice Manning, launched things with gracious references to Redmond, the learned academics who followed were more debunking than complimentary.

The organisers did not include as a speaker Redmond's main biographer, Dermot Meleady, or even others who had written about his life - except Paul Bew, whose perspective is that of an Ulster unionist.

Had it not been for John Bruton exceeding his proper function as chair of one of the sessions and delivering himself of a powerful eulogy, one would have wondered whether it ranked at all as a commemoration of John Redmond as an Irish national leader.

The closest we got to Government representation was the attendance of the Taoiseach at the end of the day to launch a book commissioned by the Royal Irish Academy about Carson and Redmond by Professor Alvin Jackson.

Mr Varadkar had been scheduled to speak at Redmond's grave in Wexford last Sunday but had pulled out before the bad weather aborted the whole event.

It is sad that a person who was national leader for almost 20 years, and whose honour and dedication nobody could question, should be treated with such lack of respect on his centenary.

It all has a long history. Those who achieved independence after Redmond's death following the use of physical force felt compelled to justify themselves by denying any credit to those who eschewed violence.

It may be that they felt threatened by doubts that what had been achieved by force could have been achieved, perhaps more slowly, by constitutional means and that it was all not worth the destruction and bitterness that were the result of the violence set off by the 1916 rebellion. The memory of Redmond and his colleagues had to be deprived of all credit to justify what had occurred.

It was fair to question the wisdom of some of Redmond's aspirations and actions.

He was prepared to settle for something less than total independence. His decision to support Britain in the Great War, although it enjoyed majority support at the time, turned out badly.

This should not prevent him being given credit for his indisputable achievements as a national leader - before 1910 he got the British government to build labourers' cottages and finance land purchase for tenant farmers, as well as to help reform the Irish university system which educated those who were to lead independent Ireland.

By his skilful and persuasive advocacy he won much wider acceptance for Irish Home Rule in Britain.

This, and his mastery of parliamentary tactics, resulted in the Home Rule Act 1914.

While the resistance of Ulster unionists prevented it from coming into effect, its result was the acceptance by both major parties in Britain that this part of Ireland should have self-government when war ended.

This created a platform from which subsequent Irish nationalists were able to negotiate a larger measure of independence.

This was a debt to Redmond that could be acknowledged by the State without belittling those who used violence to achieve independence.

This State, which prides itself on valuing all our traditions, should have commemorated properly the centenary of Redmond's death and so honoured his contribution as our national leader. This is all the more so now that as a nation we have come to accept the enduring wisdom of Redmond's core beliefs that conciliation rather than coercion is the way forward in Ireland and that we should strive for close friendly relations with our British neighbour.

Sunday Independent

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